An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (residency requirement)

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.

This bill was previously introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

Colleen Beaumier  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of Oct. 25, 2006
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Old Age Security Act to reduce from ten years to three years the residency requirement for entitlement to a monthly pension.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

May 15th, 2008 / 10:10 a.m.
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Liberal

The Vice-Chair Michael Savage

I will ask members to come back to the table.

Pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, November 29, 2007, the committee will now proceed with the clause-by-clause consideration of C-362, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (residency requirement).

We have some witnesses with us today from the Department of Human Resources and Social Development Canada. We thank you for joining us, Nathalie Martel, acting director of old age security policy; André Thivierge, acting director of international policy and agreements; Michel Montambeault, director in the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions Canada, Canada Pension Plan and old age security; and Cathy Doolan, senior counsel and litigation support specialist. We appreciate your presence here today.

We will begin. Colleagues, the preamble is postponed, pursuant to Standing Order 75(1), as I'm sure you're all aware. We shall vote on it after all the clauses have been dealt with.

We are on clause 1.

We have had no amendments submitted for this bill, so if there are any....

Madam Dhalla.

May 15th, 2008 / 9:05 a.m.
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Liberal

The Vice-Chair Michael Savage

Good morning. Bonjour. I call the meeting to order.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108, we will resume our study of the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board. That will be for the first hour, from 9 o'clock until 10 o'clock. At 10 o'clock we will take a break and then come back to clause-by-clause consideration of Madam Beaumier's bill, Bill C-362.

Welcome, all members.

I welcome new members who don't normally sit with us: Penny Priddy for the NDP, good morning; and Carolyn Bennett for the Liberals, who, among other things, is our critic for the status of persons with disabilities.

I want to first explain why I'm in a wheelchair this morning. I'm spending the day in a wheelchair as part of an experience with the Canadian Paraplegic Association. As some of you will know, the CPA was formed in 1945. It started because of the veterans who were coming back from World War II.

In Nova Scotia, in 1952, the Nova Scotia branch of the Canadian Paraplegic Association was formed. Tonight in Halifax there will be a big dinner of the CPA, with Dr. Ivar Mendez as guest speaker. Two MPs--myself and Alexa McDonough--are spending the day in wheelchairs. Alexa is in Halifax; I'm here on Parliament Hill. I'm very pleased that David Hinton and Bobby White are with us today, in the back row. They are both with the CPA.

As members of Parliament, we know we have a colleague, a quadriplegic, Steven Fletcher, who has highlighted for many of us the personal experience of what it's like to live with this kind of injury. In spite of that, going around Parliament Hill you find there are a lot of barriers. Transportation is provided through a van, but there are issues, but there are many more issues in the rest of the country. So today I'm very pleased to be part of this experience, and in particular to do so in this committee. Part of its mandate is the status of persons with disabilities, so I think it's appropriate.

We're not talking about that today, but I do want to thank David and Bobby for their assistance. And if you believe in the issue, you can always support them by pledging your support personally to me for the CPA today, and I'll give you a website you can follow. Anyway, thank you all for your indulgence on that.

We will move to our witnesses on the study of the Employment Insurance Financing Board. We have with us this morning, from the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, David Stewart-Patterson, the executive vice-president. From the CFIB, we have Garth Whyte and Corinne Pohlmann. Garth is the executive vice-president and Corinne Pohlmann is the vice-president of national affairs.

We know you couldn't join us last week. Members, I believe from all parties, expressed the wish that you could both have the opportunity to be with us to give us some thoughts on this new employment insurance crown corporation. We're delighted you could join us.

I know from past experience on finance and other committees that you're both familiar with how parliamentary committees work. We'll ask each of you to give us a 10-minute presentation and then we'll take questions from members.

Thank you for joining us, and I'll start with Mr. Stewart-Patterson.

May 13th, 2008 / 10:55 a.m.
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Member, Immigrant Seniors Advocacy Network

Kifleyesus Woldemichael

Thank you very much.

Bill C-362, identified by the House, is the most important document to cure the chronic poverty problem of the immigrant senior. This bill we consider as a cure for our chronic problems of poverty because we are living in the poverty conditions of the 1952 act, which requires 10 years' residence to be entitled to income benefits. This falls on us, and we fall into poverty conditions.

What is poverty? It is hunger, and hunger is the source of illness and disease. Physicians say this begins from the hunger of your stomach. Why? If you are hungry every disease caused by stress will come.

This law was enacted in 1952. From 1952 up to now, a lot of rapid changes have happened. When this rapid change happens, the law must be amended. It must not wait until we submit application to the government. In our opinion, the minister responsible for this act must himself consider it and amend it.

May 13th, 2008 / 10:50 a.m.
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Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

First, I want to thank you for being here with us. I'll try to be brief. I very much enjoyed each of your speeches, particularly the last, which is really revealing. Poverty can be seen among seniors. It's obvious; we see it. Even if we say we set partisanship aside, you have to recognize one thing. Mr. Woldemichael mentioned this: there is a division of powers, and we stand before political power. This may not be a partisan operation, but the decision that we must make is not based on technical elements. Do we have the political will to act, yes or no?

It's on that subject that I would like to hear what you have to say. The Bloc Québécois agrees. Ms. Beaumier was very honest with us. She said that part of her caucus was in agreement. She cannot answer for her caucus as a whole. We know that the Conservatives are opposed to this measure. Even though they tell us there are technical matters and they may not be able to support it, it's a matter of political will. Do we want it or not?

Earlier my colleague Mr. Gravel recalled that yesterday they allocated $30 billion for defence. They weren't concerned as to whether there were any technical problems; they announced their political will.

What are your arguments to convince our colleagues who still aren't convinced that Bill C-362 is right? Those arguments should be brief.

May 13th, 2008 / 10:30 a.m.
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Samuel Olarewaju Secretary, Immigrant Seniors Advocacy Network

Honourable Chairman, committee members, and guests, I want to thank you individually and collectively for giving us, particularly the African Seniors Advocacy Network members, this opportunity to bring this issue forward to you today.

We are very pleased to see support across the party lines for this particular bill, Bill C-362, which was brought forward by Colleen Beaumier. We're equally happy that the intention of bringing this forward is to improve the livelihood of senior people in the community.

This issue is a long-standing one. It has gone on for many years. When we look at the G-8 nations of the world, statistics are being compiled all the time to be able to measure how each nation is doing. Various parameters are being used to judge each nation.

On the basis of that alone, I think it would be in the interest of Canada, of which I am a part today—and I'm grateful to the government for giving me that opportunity—to do whatever it can for seniors in order to ensure that the social life seniors are leading is commendable when other people around the world, in other G-8 nations, see it.

I want to thank you for the support that was given by other parties. We know those parties that are against it; we know those parties that are not against it. But we are not after which parties are in favour and which parties are not. The benefit is for every party. Whether there was a party in the past that ought to have done it and hadn't done it, and a new party comes in now and does it, the benefit is for everybody who is a Canadian, whether young or old. What somebody has not done in the past is the past. That is gone. We don't need to talk about or waste our time on the past.

What we want to talk about is what is happening now and what we can do to improve a situation that ought to have been corrected years ago but was not. That's what we're here for. So I want to thank you in that regard.

However, we strongly recommend that this act be reduced from ten years to three years. In a similar way, we also want the sponsorship obligation to be affected by reducing it from ten years to three years.

There's no point doing the old age pension alone, without taking into account the sponsorship obligation. There have been many situations in various communities in which those sponsoring their parents were having problems, not of their own making but because of what was happening, generally, in society.

The intention of children to sponsor their parents is a genuine one. But genuine as it may be, you can never foresee what problems you will run into. When problems come, as far as children are concerned, they have to take care of themselves. And they say, “Well, you're going to take care of yourself.” How can an old man take care of himself?

So there has been a series of problems among seniors with their children. That's the area we felt the sponsorship obligation needed to be addressed, as well as the old age. In fact, according to the rules, the obligation cannot end prematurely, even if the sponsored individual becomes a Canadian citizen. That's why they flagged that on my Canadian citizenship.

My daughter who sponsored me is still responsible for whatever happens to me before the 10-year period is over. Thank God, she has a job. She's working. So maybe I don't have that problem.

But there are other seniors who have that problem. And I don't tell myself that because I don't have the problem, I don't care about others. We're all seniors.

So we wanted that and the obligation stands, even if the sponsor's financial situation becomes difficult due to major predicaments they face, such as loss of job or illness.

In short, we echo the following recommendation from the Immigrant Seniors Advocacy Network. Number one, that amendments shall be made to all relevant existing acts and policies such that the entitlement of both the old and new immigrant seniors in federal, provincial and municipal income support groups, such as the social assistance program, is not compromised by the existence of an immigration sponsorship agreement between the sponsor and the newcomer senior and the Government of Canada.

Number two is that amendments be made to existing acts and policies to ensure that in all situations of genuine sponsorship breakdown--because we are looking at a genuine sponsorship breakdown and there are many--

May 13th, 2008 / 10:10 a.m.
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Balkar Bajwa Principal, Old Age Benefits Forum of Canada

Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity.

Because of the time constraints, I would like to reduce the presentation I submitted to you earlier. I would like to concentrate on the points where this issue is opposed in general.

I have already appeared at some other forums on Bill C-362, and I presented certain views that might be in common with what I say today, but they are relevant here more than before.

The persons who oppose this amendment base their arguments on two main planks—permanency of connection of the beneficiaries with Canada, and their contribution. I feel privileged to take this opportunity to give my opinion on these two points here before this august body.

First, with respect to permanency of connection, most of the seniors have reconnected with their families after a considerable wait, and it is a cherished desire of every grandparent to spend the fag-end of their life with their children and grandchildren. Politicians must appreciate that they can never think of leaving them at this stage.

These people have left their previous country far behind. Canada, the most beloved country of their families, has also become their own country. It's not now a foreign country; it is their own country.

Most of the seniors have become citizens of Canada. They have taken a solemn oath by holding the Canadian flag that they will ever remain loyal and faithful to this country.

Respected members, are these facts not sufficient to justify their permanency of connection with Canada?

Second, the question of contribution regarding the seniors is clear and evident. Seniors bring along their rich academic and professional experiences, and they become a living source of academic and professional help to the family at all times. Particularly, they become an effective asset for the grandchildren in their school homework and further studies. They are the best source of transmitting their cultural heritage, which is full of enviable social and moral values. See them escorting small kids to the school or the school bus in the chilly, snowy weather. Is this not a contribution?

We can never ignore the long and rich background experience of elders. It becomes an asset for the younger generations who have yet to have these experiences. At certain crucial junctures of life or in vital decision-making situations, seniors render highly valuable opinions and advice. Most important, they remain available to their children at home. The house becomes a home that throbs with life all the time.

Income from disposed-of property in the native land and their current incomes and returns are all brought over here and judiciously invested in properties in Canada. Seniors make their families completely carefree from household errands and concerns, and thus the family members become more effective as Canadian workers and citizens. Seniors are the ones who brought up their sons and daughters, who are now contributing to the Canadian economy as professionals, skilled workers, and businessmen. Some of them are now serving as representatives in Parliament or in provincial parliaments.

I just heard some of the arguments here, and I think this issue has become a ball between political parties. I can quote certain occasions when Conservatives too sported this idea and decided it was discriminatory. I can adduce from the record that Mr. Gurmant Grewal, one of the Conservatives, moved a motion regarding this very issue. Another time it was when the Liberals were in power. I think we should not be made the victims of this political game.

Let us, sir, look at this respectable but useful section of our Canadian society a bit more compassionately. They should be honoured by having their economic and social security ensured. The amendment of this act will go a long way towards ensuring rights of equality for landed immigrants. Currently this fundamental right is being infringed, which leads to unfairness and injustice to them.

A parliament that can impose a condition has all the power and authority to remove it through an amendment. From this platform, I implore Parliament to make this amendment. It is a common and just cause for all seniors, yours and ours. At present, three years’ residency is a sufficient condition to enable them to get OAS benefits. It will surely go a long way toward eliminating two classes of Canadians in matters of OAS benefits. There should be no classes, no bifurcation of seniors.

Hence, I extend wholehearted support to Bill C-362 and appeal to all of you to consider it compassionately and favourably, and to recommend it to Parliament for third reading.

Thank you.

May 13th, 2008 / 10:07 a.m.
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Liberal

The Vice-Chair Michael Savage

We're going to resume our study of Bill C-362.

To our witnesses, we are delighted and honoured to have you with us today. The hearings will be in English and French.

We do understand that coming before a parliamentary committee takes a bit of getting used to. Please be assured that we're all very friendly and very pleased to have you with us. Again, we're honoured by your presence here today.

Resuming on Bill C-362, we have with us a number of people. From the Old Age Benefits Forum of Canada, we have Balkar Bajwa and Kuldip Sahi. We thank you for coming. From the Old Age Benefits Forum of Vancouver, we have Balwinder Singh Chahal. From the Immigrant Seniors Advocacy Network, we have Samuel Olarewaju and Kifleyesus Woldemichael. And as an individual, we have Raymond Micah.

Each group will have five minutes to present. We understand that at one point in time, when we had less witnesses, you may have been told ten minutes. We do have questions we want to get to. All the members are very anxious to discuss this bill with you.

We will start with the Old Age Benefits Forum of Canada.

Mr. Bajwa and Mr. Sahi, you have five minutes.

May 13th, 2008 / 10 a.m.
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Bloc

Raymond Gravel Repentigny, QC

Of course, Bill C-362 doesn't resolve everything. Are you also in favour of Bill C-490, which we introduced?

May 13th, 2008 / 9:55 a.m.
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Bloc

Raymond Gravel Repentigny, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Perhaps I'm a bit naive. I'm not yet used to parliamentary practices. I was only elected a year and a half ago. Ms. Beaumier, thank you for your bill. I can't believe that these kinds of discussions can be held. Mr. Lake objects to the $300 million intended for seniors, but the government has just allocated $30 billion for the armed forces, which doesn't seem to cause a problem. I find that a bit sad. If the goal is to improve the lot of our seniors and of seniors who come from elsewhere, but who have integrated into Canada and Quebec, it seems to me we could stop going back and criticizing those who were in power for not taking certain measures. Instead we should consider the present situation. I believe we must build the future and stop looking back on the past.

I often hear the Conservatives—and this is part of their method—criticizing the Liberals for not doing one thing or another when they were in power. Perhaps I'm naive, but I think we have to improve the lot of our seniors. Bill C-362 will help seniors who come from elsewhere but live in Canada and Quebec. But there's something else.

When the issue of seniors arises in the House, I often hear Ms. Yelich compare Canada to countries that mistreat their seniors. Why instead wouldn't we compare ourselves to the best countries in the world in this area? I believe we should always have that kind of objective in view. I'm a priest, and I've always been told that, as a Christian, I should draw inspiration from Mother Teresa and try to imitate her rather than those who do not act fully on their Christian faith. The point is always to try to imitate the best. That's what I try to do. I don't yet come up to Mother Theresa's ankle, but I'm trying. I figure it should be the same thing for a country. There are seniors in Quebec and Canada. Could we become the best country in the world in the treatment of our seniors? If that's the case, we should stop comparing ourselves to countries that mistreat their seniors.

I'm here in the committee today because I'm concerned about the lot of seniors. This is my file. I read your bill, and, in my opinion, anyone who votes against it does not deserve to be an MP. I don't know how members who vote against this kind of bill can be elected. My colleague Mr. Lessard asked earlier whether the Liberals had a real desire to change things. That's what concerns me. The Bloc Québécois introduced Bill C-490, which is at the second reading stage. I heard a speech by a Liberal who is very positive. However, I'm afraid we'll get to third reading and then vote against the bill. That's the kind of thing that disappoints me. It's as though we wanted to have a clear conscience with constituents or citizens who elected us. If that's really the case, I think that's dishonest.

We have to work for people. We are at the service of the public, not our own. We're not here just so that we can stay elected, but really to help the public. A bill for seniors must serve to help them and not to get us elected. I hope that's also what you believe, Ms. Beaumier, and that your party will support that kind of position. I would like to hear your comments on that subject.

May 13th, 2008 / 9:45 a.m.
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Liberal

Ruby Dhalla Brampton—Springdale, ON

Just with regard to some information that I believe Ms. Yelich has been speaking about, I had a chance to meet with the department on this particular issue just last month. They informed me in their particular presentation that there are 50 agreements that have been signed with other countries. They were in negotiations with three other countries—two of them being Romania and Poland—and six other countries for partial agreements. But as Ms. Beaumier mentioned, many of the people who are advocates of the old age benefits from those particular countries don't have an agreement at this moment. Neither do they have an agreement under way for possible negotiation.

That is why I think it's important that we do take a look at Bill C-362 to ensure that we substitute that residency requirement from ten years to three years without those particular agreements. And as was mentioned by Ms. Beaumier, many of those countries, including countries like India and China and Saudi Arabia and a number of others, don't have a social safety net resource to provide their particular citizens. But when they do come here, just on the basis of equality and fundamental human rights, I think what is happening is extremely unjust and is something that is discriminatory.

I know I had a chance to be in my colleague Mike Lake's riding last week and was speaking to the seniors at the Edmonton Mill Woods Seniors Centre. There are a number of seniors across this country who are passionate advocates, and I think we see a number of them around this room.

We need to ensure that we put partisan politics behind us, regardless of which political party we're from. We have to do the right thing on behalf of these seniors in our country and ensure that we reverse this discrimination and really correct it, to ensure that there is true equality.

May 13th, 2008 / 9:05 a.m.
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Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Brampton West, ON

Thank you.

To begin, I'd like to thank the chair and other members of the committee for inviting me to speak today, and for providing me the opportunity to answer questions concerning Bill C-362, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act.

This bill was introduced in the House, by me, on October 25, 2006. Its aim is as simple as it is important. It amends the Old Age Security Act to reduce from ten years to three years the residency requirement for entitlement to old age security. Lowering the residency requirement in this way will remedy a grave oversight in Canada's social security system, which is presently causing great stress to seniors across Canada and to the families and communities to which they belong.

All Canadians believe the elimination of poverty, especially amongst those most vulnerable in society, should be the top concern of the Government of Canada. This bill will go a long way to alleviating the hardship experienced by some of Canada's most vulnerable.

Let me take a moment to explain how it will do this. The federal old age security program came into existence in 1952 as a matter of social justice. It was motivated by a concern for the needs and welfare of Canada's senior citizens. Essentially, at that time Canadians recognized and decided that no Canadian senior should ever live in poverty.

Presently, the Old Age Security Act requires a person to reside in Canada for ten years before she or he is entitled to receive old age security. As a result, it is not at all uncommon for a Canadian senior citizen to go entirely without the benefits of old age security for many years, thus exposing them unnecessarily to the hardships of poverty.

However, I wish to emphasize that this is also about dignity and decency. Unlike the Canadian and Quebec pension plans, which are funded by contributions from each person over his or her working life, the OAS is presently funded from general tax revenues. This means OAS is funded from the taxes of every person living and working in Canada right now, not 10, 15, or 20 years ago. This is regardless of his or her country of birth. This also means that lowering the residency requirement does not affect or pose any sort of threat to the long-term viability of other pension schemes. Furthermore, OAS income is itself subject to tax, so ultimately, only those Canadian seniors most in need receive any OAS benefits.

From the perspective of social justice, a 10-year residency requirement is arbitrary and inappropriately discriminatory. Old age security, I want to emphasize, is not intended to reward seniors for services rendered. Rather, it is intended to ensure Canadian seniors will not live in poverty.

The needs of new Canadians are as genuine as the needs of those who have resided here for 10 years or more. Three years is the minimum residency requirement to become a Canadian citizen. If that's a sufficient residency requirement for citizenship, it's sufficient for old age security.

Of course, doing the right and decent thing costs money, and this bill is no exception. Based on statistical analysis undertaken by the Library of Parliament at my request, it can be estimated that if Bill C-362 comes into force for 2009, some 38,700 persons will become eligible for benefits related to old age security. That is, an estimated 32,900 will become eligible for old age security benefits, 28,100 will also qualify for guaranteed income supplement benefits, and an additional 5,800 will qualify for the spousal allowance.

When the changes are made, the total cost will be around $410 million. Of that total, approximately $40 million will be paid out in OAS benefits, $310 million in GIS benefits, and about $60 million in spousal allowances. It is estimated that the total cost per year will rise about $15 million thereafter. I should note also that the actual cost to the government will be a little lower, because some of the benefits will be recouped through taxation.

The total cost associated with the changes proposed by Bill C-362 is not inconsequential. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the total cost per person is only about $10,000 to $12,000 per year. It should be further noted that these seniors do not all live in total isolation. By helping these seniors, we will also help families and the communities of which they are a part. Moreover, the cost to fix this glaring hole in our social security net is not insubstantial only because the needs of those affected are so great.

I believe Canadians all across the country want to address the residency requirement, which imposes a very real hardship on so many seniors, their families, and their communities. No person, and certainly no member of this committee, would ever want to face a choice between poverty and a life of absolute dependence on family and friends. By guaranteeing a certain basic level of support for all Canadian seniors, we guarantee a lifetime of dignity and self-respect for all Canadians.

On the whole, Canadians are a decent people. Without exception, whenever possible, we strive to do the right thing and to right wrongs whenever we encounter them. Even to the most casual observer, the hardships created by the 10-year residency requirement is a wrong that needs to be corrected. Why? Because it is the decent thing to do.

Thank you.

May 13th, 2008 / 9:05 a.m.
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Liberal

The Vice-Chair Michael Savage

That was carried with great vigour. Thank you very much.

We are studying Bill C-362, and we have Madam Beaumier with us. Congratulations on steering this bill successfully to this point. We look forward to your testimony. I think you have ten minutes to speak, and then we'll have some questions.

Colleen Beaumier.

May 13th, 2008 / 9:05 a.m.
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Liberal

The Vice-Chair Michael Savage

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

I call the meeting to order pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, November 28, 2007. We are studying Bill C-362, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (residency requirement). We will be hearing from Colleen Beaumier, who has introduced that bill, from 9 to 10, and then from 10 to 11 we have a number of people who have taken time to come and provide testimony on this piece of legislation. We thank them, and we'll introduce them at 10 o'clock.

First of all, committee, I would ask you to have a look at the first piece of business, which is the operational budget request for this study. I think all members have that in front of them. Do all members have that? I don't think there's much discussion on that, but I'll hear some if there is any. If not, I would ask for somebody to move that it be passed.

Madam Sgro.

May 8th, 2008 / 11:03 a.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

I think the list has been cut off, but we'll talk afterwards, Sukh, if you have a second.

On May 15, the Thursday, it was agreed as well that we should try to bring back the two witnesses on the financing board: the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Council of Chief Executives. The second hour then would be clause-by-clause on Bill C-362.

May 6th, 2008 / 11:30 a.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

Okay. I think that's a decent compromise. The challenge would be that we don't want this to go on too long, because we're going to issue a report or whatever we're going to do. My suggestion would be that we ask them maybe next week and add them on to what we're going to be doing with Bill C-362. So maybe that would be a possibility.

Thank you, Mr. Martin.

I have Ms. Yelich, Mr. Savage, and then Mr. Lessard.